Political Science

SES [socio-economic status] correlates to willingness to use military force, but not one’s assessment of the need for it.

That is from a fascinating and just-released book I have been reading from Jonathan D. Caverley, A Theory of Democratic Militarism: Voting, Wealth, and War.

Now seems like an apposite time to remember, Congress intends no more than Congress smiles. As Ken Shepsle put it in his classic paper Congress is a “They,” not an “It”:

Legislative intent is an internally inconsistent, self-contradictory expression. Therefore, it has no meaning. To claim otherwise is to entertain a myth (the existence of a Rousseauian great law giver) or commit a fallacy (the false personification of a collectivity). In either instance, it provides a very insecure foundation for statutory interpretation.

Shepsle’s point is that Arrow’s impossibility theorem shows that not only do collectives not have preferences they can’t even be understood as if they had preferences. As I wrote earlier:

Suppose that a person is rational and that we observe their choices. After some time we will come to understand their choices in terms of their underlying preferences (assume stability–this is a thought experiment).  We will be able to say, “Ah, I see what this person wants. I understand now why they are choosing in the way that they do.  If I were them, I would choose in the same way.”

Arrow showed that when a group chooses, there are no underlying preferences to uncover–not even in theory. In one sense, the theorem is trivial. We know or should always have known that a group doesn’t have preferences anymore than a group smiles. What Arrow showed, however, is that without invoking special cases we can’t even rationalize group choices as if leviathan had preferences.

Put differently, if we do try to rationalize a leviathan with preferences and intention we will find that such a leviathian has the preferences and intention of a madman. Quoting Shepsle again:

…the Hart and Sacks (1958) notion that legislation should be treated as the result of “reasonable people pursuing reasonable purposes reasonably” is insufficient. Even if we do adopt this posture, even if legislators are the kinds
of reasonable people Hart and Sacks envision, it is still fruitless to attribute intent to
the product of their collective efforts. Individual intents, even if they are unambiguous,
do not add up like vectors. That is the content of Arrow; that is the malady of
majority rule….

…The courts cannot defer to something that is nonsense.

By the way, if legislative intent was nonsense in 1992 when Shepsle wrote, then today, when Congress is more divided than ever, it is nonsense on stilts.

Addendum: Zywicki and Stearn’s excellent book, Public Choice Concepts and Applications in Law has a good discussion of the issue and some of the alternative methods of interpreting a statute. One might begin with Holmes statement, “We do not inquire what the legislature meant; we ask only what the statutes mean.”

The Ryan plan is here (pdf), an NYT summary is here. Overall it’s pretty good.  It attacks excess incarceration and occupational licensing and regressive regulations, three issues where a serious dialogue is badly needed.  It makes a good attempt to limit the incentives for lower-income people not to work.  It’s better than what the Left is turning out for the first time in…how long?

I’m not crazy about the complicated plan to monitor the lives of the poor in more detail (“…work with families to design a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty.”)  And my biggest conceptual objection is the heavy stress on block grants and letting the states figure things out.  I’m not opposed to that in principle, and I might even favor it, but I think it’s often the lazy man’s way of avoiding talk about difficult trade-offs.  I’d like to see a possible plan for just a single state, or better yet two or three, that is supposed to represent an improvement.  That shouldn’t be too hard to do, or if it is maybe the states can’t do it either.  It’s not as if fifty states are giving us a market-based discovery process, as the rhetoric sometimes implies.  Furthermore we have a bunch of large states with ongoing bad governance, such as CA, NY, and IL, and maybe the federal government really can do better for those places.

Here is Vox on the regulation side of the plan.  Kevin Drum offers comment.  Ross Douthat mostly likes it.  Jared Bernstein doesn’t like it.  Robert Greenstein is critical.  Here is Neil Irwin.  And Annie Lowrey.  And Josh Barro.  And Yuval Levin.  And Ezra Klein.  Other people have opinions about it, too.  Or so I am led to believe.

There is a new piece of interest in Technology Review, here is one excerpt:

Psychologists have always assumed that patterns of behavior change more quickly in countries that emphasize collectivism. Once an idea has taken hold, the pressure to conform means it spreads rapidly. “It has previously been argued that social support mechanisms in collectivistic societies make it more likely that a person will stop smoking,” say Lang and co.

And conversely, in countries that emphasize individualism, patterns of behavior must change more slowly because there is less social pressure to conform.

The puzzle is that the data on smoking shows exactly the reverse. Sweden was much slower to adopt smoking and much slower to stop.

Now Lang and co think they know why. They’ve created a mathematical model that includes the effects of social pressure allowing them to simulate the way behavior spreads through societies with different levels of individualism.

The model reveals why Sweden stopped smoking more slowly. “Our model suggests that … social inertia will inhibit decisions to stop smoking more strongly in collectivistic societies than in individualistic societies,” say Lang and co.

The original research, by Lang, Abrams, and De Sterck is here.  Their results do not rest on Sweden alone, but for the record I consider the Swedes to be relatively individualistic by most metrics, most of all when it comes to atomization.

The author of this new and excellent book is my colleague Peter T. Leeson and the subtitle is Why Self-Governance Works Better Than You Think.  Here is one excerpt:

Twenty-two of thirty-seven street gangs Jankowski (1991: 78-82) studied have written constitutions.  Sicilian Mafiosi follow a largely unwritten code of rules, and recently police found a written set of “ten commandments” outlining the Mafia’s core laws…Kaminski (2004) identifies extensive (yet unwritten) rules dictating nearly every aspect of Polish prisoners’ lives, from what words are acceptable to use in greeting a stranger to how and when to use the bathroom.  And the National Gang Crime Research Center considers constitutions so central to criminal societies that the use of a constitution is one of the defining characteristics it uses when classifying gangs…

Peter of course does not favor criminal gangs, rather he seeks social principles for voluntarism and yes perhaps you could call these views a kind of anarchism.  My stance, however, differs from his.

I accept the reductionist argument that government too is a kind of anarchy, since it must rely on norms and internally polycentric and perhaps even ultimately intransitive mechanisms for maintaining order.  There is no “final court of authority” in the practical sense, but rather a series of overlapping constraints which give rise to a spontaneous order of rules and governance, for better or worse.  In this sense anarchy is not an absurd idea at all, and we can imagine many varieties of orderly anarchy, including those in a more libertarian direction.  That said, while I often favor smaller government, when it comes to political philosophy I do not seek to move toward “more anarchy.”  In fact I often admire the relatively centralized governmental structures of Great Britain and New Zealand, with their clean and sharp lines of accountability.

I think modern anarchy would indeed be “orderly,” but I also think that private protection agencies would end up colluding and re-evolving into a form of coercive government (pdf), furthermore in a form that libertarians would find objectionable.  I would much rather have the West’s current democratic governments, for all their imperfections, than a for-profit “shareholder state,” not to mention the transition costs and the uncertainties along the way.  The best thing you can say about a shareholder state is that it might have a better immigration policy.  In the meantime, we are seeking to rebuild the history we have.

…on July 13, about four days before the actual incursion began, about 67 percent of Israelis supported a ground operation. By authorizing one, Netanyahu has given the public what it has demanded.

That is from Brent Sasley.

Fred Kaplan wonders whether Israel has lost its ability to think strategically.  Even Max Boot seems to think Hamas will stay in charge of Gaza.

Or is the fear that even intercepted Hamas rockets will in the long run spur too much Israeli emigration?  Are the economics of long-run rocket/shoot-down reciprocity unacceptable to Israel?

A friend of mine suggests that Israel feels the need to send a tough signal to Iran.

Or all of the above?

I am by the way not impressed by various Twitter demands that I should spend more time moralizing about this conflict.  I do think it is deontologically wrong on the part of the Israelis, and I also do not understand their strategy from even a purely nationalistic point of view.  But my voice will have no influence, and I would rather learn something from the comments section about why such strategies are being pursued.  Call me selfish if you wish, I am.

Yet another shibboleth of campaign finance reform appears to be in weak shape, here is a new paper (pdf):

I show that the public funding of elections produces a large decrease in the financial and electoral advantage of incumbents. Despite these eff ects on electoral competition, I demonstrate that public funding produces more polarization and candidate divergence|not less. Finally, I establish that this eff ect is at least in part due to the fact that public funding disproportionately aff ects the contribution behavior of access-oriented interest groups, groups who, I show, systematically support moderate incumbents. Access-oriented interest groups therefore help generate the incumbency advantage and mitigate polarization by supporting moderate legislators.

That is from Andrew B. Hall at the Department of Government at Harvard.

Mann and Corrado have new work on this topic, here is a brief excerpt from the Brookings summary:

The evidence suggests that increasing the role of small donors would have little effect on partisan polarization in either direction because small donors tend to be highly polarized. Although Mann and Corrado note that a healthier mix would champion democratic ideals like civic participation and equality of voice.

Taking both points together, Mann and Corrado find that campaign finance reform is insufficient for depolarizing the parties and improving governing capacity. They argue forcefully that polarization emerges from a broader political and partisan problem. Ultimately, they assert that, “some break in the party wars is probably a prerequisite to any serious pushback to the broader deregulation of campaign finance now underway.”

I view campaign finance reform as in general an overrated idea on the Left.

That is the theme of my new New York Times column.  Here is one excerpt:

Income inequality has surged as a political and economic issue, but the numbers don’t show that inequality is rising from a global perspective. Yes, the problem has become more acute within most individual nations, yet income inequality for the world as a whole has been falling for most of the last 20 years. It’s a fact that hasn’t been noted often enough…

The message from groups like Occupy Wall Street has been that inequality is up and that capitalism is failing us. A more correct and nuanced message is this: Although significant economic problems remain, we have been living in equalizing times for the world — a change that has been largely for the good. That may not make for convincing sloganeering, but it’s the truth…

Many egalitarians push for policies to redistribute some income within nations, including the United States. That’s worth considering, but with a cautionary note. Such initiatives will prove more beneficial on the global level if there is more wealth to redistribute. In the United States, greater wealth would maintain the nation’s ability to invest abroad, buy foreign products, absorb immigrants and generate innovation, with significant benefit for global income and equality.

In other words, the true egalitarian should follow the economist’s inclination to seek wealth-maximizing policies, and that means worrying less about inequality within the nation.

Do read the whole thing.

To enlist in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), potential recruits have to take tests. To make sure their sons and daughters pass, families pay up. At one recruitment office in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi, this year’s going rate, depending on your guanxi, or connections, is as much as 99,000 yuan ($16,000), says Wang, a recruitment officer in the province who asked that his full name not be used because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly. Limited openings, plus a high failure rate on the fitness exam, push parents to buy spots for their children during the annual enlistment drive that runs through September. Success offers a stable job and, for some, an escape from rural poverty.

The price varies, Wang says. His old army friends “asked me what the current price tag is, and I said ‘around 80,000 to 90,000 yuan for you guys.’ If your guanxi was really strong, it’d cost you around 50,000 to 60,000 yuan; if it was just so-so, you would have to spend 100,000 yuan at least.”

So how formidable a fighting force are they?  There is more here.

The excellent Brendan J. Nyhan directs my attention to this forthcoming paper by Anna Getmansky and Thomas Zeitzoff (pdf):

How does the threat of becoming a victim of terrorism affect voting behavior? Localities in southern Israel have been exposed to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip since 2001. Relying on variation across time and space in the range of rockets, we identify the effect of this threat on voting in Israeli elections. We first show that the evolution of the rockets’ range leads to exogenous variation in the threat of terrorism. We then compare voting in national elections within and outside the rockets’ range. Our results suggest that right-wing vote-share is 2 to 6 percentage points higher in localities that are within the range– a substantively significant effect. Unlike previous studies that explore the role of actual exposure to terrorism on political preferences and behavior, we show that the mere threat of an attack affects voting.

Here is a related post from Monkey Cage.

It is a pretty mixed bag, as illustrated by this newly published paper by Dean Lacy, the abstract is here:

The 2012 election campaign popularized the notion that people who benefit from federal spending vote for Democrats, while people who pay the preponderance of taxes vote Republican. A survey conducted during the election included questions to test this hypothesis and to assess the accuracy of voters’ perceptions of federal spending. Voters’ perceptions of their benefit from federal spending are determined by family income, age, employment status, and number of children, as well as by party identification and race. Voters aged 65 and older who believe they are net beneficiaries of federal spending are more likely to be Democrats and vote for Barack Obama than seniors who believe they are net contributors to the federal government. However, the 77.5 percent of voters under age 65 who believe they are net beneficiaries of federal spending are as likely to vote for Romney as for Obama and as likely to be Republicans as Democrats. Voters who live in states that receive more in federal funds than they pay in federal taxes are less likely to vote for Obama or to be Democrats. For most of the electorate, dependence on federal spending is unrelated to vote choice.

Hat tip goes to Kevin Lewis.  I am not able to find an ungated copy.

Kevin also points us to this interesting paper interpreting the Scandinavian model.  The authors are Erling Barth, Karl O. Moene, and Fredrik Willumsen, and the abstract is this:

The small open economies in Scandinavia have for long periods had high work effort, small wage differentials, high productivity, and a generous welfare state. To understand how this might be an economic and political equilibrium we combine models of collective wage bargaining, creative job destruction, and welfare spending. The two-tier system of wage bargaining provides microeconomic efficiency and wage compression. Combined with a vintage approach to the process of creative destruction we show how wage compression fuels investments, enhances average productivity and increases the mean wage by allocating more of the work force to the most modern activities. Finally, we show how the political support of welfare spending is fueled by both a higher mean wage and a lower wage dispersion.

Again, I cannot find an ungated copy.

“The voices in Israel go from, ‘Let’s create some friction with Hamas, to show we’re serious,’ to the idea of taking back the Gaza Strip,” says Ya’akov Amidror, a retired general who was until recently Netanyahu’s national security adviser. “And democratic systems are craziest ones in the international arena, because the leadership has to take into consideration all of these ideas.”

There is more here, mostly on what kind of future Hamas will have if any, interesting throughout.

Haaretz reports that some of the current rockets have a range of 150 km, which is longer than most of what has been fired in the past.  So here is my question: when do those rockets become sufficiently powerful and numerous that they can close down Tel Aviv Airport, which is of course the main route in and out of Israel, especially for well-off people.  If that can happen, is this not like a housing bubble game, where things can go very sour very quickly?  And in the meantime, will the Israel government attempt “lower the mean, increase the variance” strategies, if only to forestall what is to them an obviously unacceptable outcome, namely that Hamas can could close Tel Aviv airport at will?  Are we already at the point of seeing such mean-reducing strategies?  If not, how much worse will things be when we get there?

In March 1917, the EEF [Egyptian Expeditionary Force, from Great Britain] launched offensive operations in southern Palestine.

That is from the new and noteworthy book by Kristian Coates Unrichsen, The First World War in the Middle East.  I wouldn’t say it is a fun book, but it is clear, well-written, and very good background reading on a number of today’s crises.